Detroit Tigers

Bad Ausmus

Ausmus eject

Brad Ausmus is the worst manager in the American League.

During the Sunday Night Baseball game on May 10 between the Royals and Tigers, Miguel Cabrera led off the bottom of the 9th with a walk. The game was tied 1-1, and Ausmus elected to use Rajai Davis to pinch run for Cabrera. Leadoff walks score 38 percent of the time, so removing your best hitter in a game that more likely than not will go to extra innings is facially stupid. The only justification would be if you can use that speed aggressively, i.e. a stolen base. A man on second with none out would score 60% of the time; a man on third with none out would score 85% of the time.

Davis apparently had a green light but did not run the first two pitches to the next batter Victor Martinez, then Martinez singled to left and Davis went to second. If Davis stole in the first two pitches, he would have scored on that single and the game would have been over, but fine, you could theoretically put the blame solely on Davis for failing to run. Then Ausmus decided to put the stop light on Davis when he was at second, even though (a) the increase in odds of going to third make a steal just as worthwhile as stealing second and (b) the Royals weren’t really holding Davis and he was able to establish a huge lead. What was supposed to be an “aggressive” move of pulling Cabrera for Davis ended up as mere station-to-station baserunning as the following hitters made meager outs and the game proceeded to extra innings.

Predictably, this decision would ultimately lose the game for the Tigers. The Royals scored in the top of the 10th, then the Tigers loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom half. Cabrera’s spot was due up, but instead, up to the plate strode Hernan Perez, who boasted an OPS of .211 for the season. Perez did just about the worst thing possible, bouncing into an easy 5-2-3 double play with the lead runner out at home. Game essentially over.

There are many terrible managers in the major leagues, but most of them happen to be in the National League: Chip Hale, Bryan Price, Walt Weiss, Don Mattingly, Mike Redmond, Ryne Sandberg, Matt Williams. In the American League, however, it really comes down to Ned Yost, Lloyd McClendon and Brad Ausmus. I am convinced McClendon is terrible due to his close affiliation with Jim Leyland, but have no real concrete evidence to support his awfulness. Yost seemed like the frontrunner until last night, when Ausmus snatched the title away. Afterwards, Ausmus expressed no regret and stated “it’s a move you have to make.” Congrats Brad. You’re the Bossmus…you’re the Ausmus Prime of sucking.

2015 Predictions

Despite my complete failure to predict anything correctly last year, I’ve decided to roll out another set of predictions this year, apparently because I am a depraved masochist.  While I referred to my 2014 predictions as “bold”, I make no assertion about the boldness of this year’s predictions.  I no longer care about my perceived boldness.  I just want to get one right.

1.  Each National League division winner from 2014 (Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers) will repeat.

While the 2015 American League looks like a complete crapshoot, with various upstarts on the rise and traditional powers on the decline, I don’t expect much to change at the top of the NL.  The Nationals started with three excellent starters in Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, and then over the past year have added 40% of what used to be the best rotation in baseball (Max Scherzer and Doug Fister from Detroit).  The Dodgers are still the best team in the West on paper and have the means to add whatever they need over the course of the season.  The Cardinals, on the other hand, do seem to be vulnerable in the Central after a rather underwhelming 2014, but I’m not sure their division rivals have made quite enough strides to overtake them this year.  Which leads me to my next prediction…

2.  The Cubs will be a massive disappointment.

Everyone seems to love what the Cubs have done over the offseason, from signing Jon Lester to poaching Joe Maddon.  Add that to the best group of prospects in baseball, and many are picking the Cubs to experience a huge turnaround.  In fact, fans and bettors are so excited that the Cubs are leading World Series odds in Vegas, now at 6 to 1.  I’m sorry, this is just insane.  This is still a team that finished in last place in 2014, and the success of the team is largely tied to the development of youngsters with little to no major league experience, such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.  I have no doubt that the Cubs are headed in the right direction, but those counting on big things for 2015 are going to end up being very, very sad.  I mean, we’re talking about the Cubs!  Have we learned nothing from the past 100+ years?

3.  Two of the three longest postseason droughts will come to an end.

Only three teams have failed to make the playoffs in the past ten years: the Blue Jays (21 year drought), the Mariners (13 years) and the Marlins (11 years).  All three are improved for 2015 and have major sleeper potential, and I expect at least two of these teams to finally break through and return to the playoffs.  Honestly, I hope it’s not the Marlins, because I despise this franchise and their scumbag ownership, but the bottom of the NL East (Atlanta and Philadelphia) looks terrible and the Fish should get fat playing those teams 19 times each.

4.  Baltimore will win the AL East.

The Orioles look mediocre on paper and are generally not highly regarded by the advanced stats community.  This has been true for the past three years, but the O’s have posted three straight winning seasons, averaging 91 wins a year.  And while they have lost some key contributors from last year, like Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller, one must remember that they dominated the AL for significant portions of 2014 without Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis.  Sure, the rotation is nothing special, but the same can be said for nearly all of their AL East rivals.

5.  The Yankees will have a losing record for the first time since 1992.

The post-Jeter era in New York has begun, and it does not look pretty.  Sure, Jeter’s statistics were in sharp decline over the past few years, and he was barely a shell of himself during his farewell tour in 2014.  But people tend to forget that statistics can only measure so much…and that Derek Jeter is magic.  Without magic, there is no life to the Frankenstein’s monster of the Yankees roster.  All you’re left with is a bunch of inanimate rotting body parts sewn together.

6.  The Giants will miss the playoffs.

Like clockwork.  It’s an odd year.  This will mean that this “dynasty” (I shudder at this word) will have made a total of three playoff appearances over a span of seven seasons.  What a joke.

7.  The Tigers will not win 90 games.

This is the same prediction I made as last year, but it’s significantly less bold this year, as many see the Tigers as on the verge of falling off a cliff.  I wanted to go out on a limb and say that the Tigers wouldn’t make the playoffs at all, but I can’t do it.  Or rather, I don’t want to.  With all the parity in the AL and two wild-cards, who knows.  Plus, unlike their emerging division rivals, the Tigers are clearly in all-in mode, and can go for broke at the trade deadline if they are anywhere close to contending.  But, even with some good breaks, I think 90 wins is the ceiling.

8.  The Nationals will be the best team in 2015…and it won’t matter.

I’ve lost all faith in the playoffs.  They are a complete crapshoot, and the more the playoffs are expanded, the more crappyshooty they will be.  I think the Nationals are the best team in the majors, but since when does the best team win the World Series?  Or even a good team?  Whatever.  I think I’ll just root for a Beltway Series, that will be fun.  May the best team win?  Not likely.

Playoff predictions:

NL East:  Nationals
NL Central:  Cardinals
NL West:  Dodgers
NL Wild Cards:  Pirates, Marlins

AL East:  Orioles
AL Central:  Indians
AL West:  Mariners
AL Wild Cards:  Angels, Tigers

NLCS:  Nationals over Dodgers
ALCS:  Orioles over Indians

World Series:  Orioles over Nationals

Worst Predictions Ever and World Series Possibilities

A few posts ago, I made my postseason picks, and they were perfect:

AL Wild Card:  Oakland over Kansas City
NL Wild Card:  Pittsburgh over San Francisco

ALCS:  Detroit vs Oakland
NLCS:  Los Angeles vs Washington

Yes, that’s an amazing 100% wrong.  Six out of six.  I mean, that takes some serious skill, right?

But I would suspect that I’m not the only one who predicted zero LCS participants correctly.  Both wild card teams are still alive, and both teams that won the most games in their leagues (Angels and Nationals) are out.  Only one higher seed (Baltimore) won its Division Series.

In the National League, it’s more of the same.  Either the Giants or the Cardinals will end up representing the NL in the World Series for the fifth straight year.  It’s completely the opposite in the American League, where whichever team goes to the World Series will be breaking a LONG pennant drought (29 years for the Royals, 31 years for the Orioles).

So, the following are not predictions (since I am obviously terrible at that), but a ranking of the most watchable potential World Series matchups:

1.  Kansas City vs. St. Louis
This would be a rematch of the memorable 1985 World Series, which the Royals won in seven.  Yadier Molina against the Royals’ running game?  Yes please.  And most importantly, this is the only remaining potential matchup that would involve a legitimate geographic rivalry.

There are eight possible World Series matchups that would involve a geographic “pair”:
i. Kansas City vs. St. Louis — The Show-Me Series or the I-70 Series
ii. NY Yankees vs. NY Mets — The Subway Series
iii. LA Angels vs. LA Dodgers — The Freeway Series
iv. Oakland vs. San Francisco — The Bay Bridge Series
v. Chicago White Sox vs. Chicago Cubs — The Crosstown Series or the Red Line Series
vi.  Baltimore vs. Washington — The Beltway Series
vii.  Cleveland vs. Cincinnati — The Ohio Series
viii.  Tampa Bay vs. Miami — The Citrus Series

This year, we had four matched pairs of teams (LA, Bay Area, DC, MO) in the postseason, which I’m pretty sure is a record.  The last pair standing is the Battle for Missouri, but if that happens, I really hope that people don’t continue to refer to it as the I-70 Series.  I mean, Baltimore and Denver are also on I-70, so the term could also refer to a Rockies-Orioles World Series.  And the last thing I would want is for people to get carried away with the Interstate monikers.  Would a Tigers-Marlins World Series be called the I-75 Series?  Would Yankees-Giants be called the I-80 Series?  Let’s just nip this in the bud right now.

2.  Baltimore vs. San Francisco
An all black and orange World Series!  Normally, I don’t like it when teams with similar colors play each other (especially teams that wear red…there are too many teams in red.  Why don’t more teams wear interesting colors?) but since it’s Halloween soon, why not?  In a postseason where the gap between well-managed and poorly-managed teams seems bigger than ever, this matchup would pit the two best remaining managers (Bruce Bochy and Buck Showalter) against each other, hopefully ensuring high-quality baseball where the outcome is decided by the players on the field, not by managerial bungling.

3.  Baltimore vs. St. Louis
An all birds World Series!  Surprisingly, there has never been an all birds World Series before.  Who would win in a fight, a real oriole or a real cardinal?  I think cardinals are slightly larger, but I can’t really be sure.  Whatever.

4.  Kansas City vs. San Francisco
This is the least preferable World Series scenario because it would be guaranteed to produce a rather unpalatable World Series champion.  If the Royals won, it would be despite (a) one of the most incompetent managers in all of baseball in Ned Yost and (b) going 6-13 against my Tigers this year.   How would I feel about having such an undeserving World Series champion, one that was clearly inferior to the team I root for?   On the other hand, if the Giants won, it would be their third championship in five years and would establish the weakest dynasty in the history of sports.  As a Bay Area resident, can I live with a spoiled and obnoxious fan base becoming even more spoiled and obnoxious?  (Apparently, before the Giants game began yesterday, fans cheered enthusiastically when the scoreboard announced that the Dodgers had been eliminated.  I don’t understand this.  Wouldn’t you want to face and defeat your biggest rival, rather than have someone else knock them off?  Even the vilest villain in a movie won’t let his henchmen kill the superhero; he wants the satisfaction in doing it himself.  Whether they’re clueless bandwagoners or just petty, Giants fans lack sense.)

Requiem for a Season

Yesterday, 43,013 people filed into Comerica Park to observe the Tigers end their season in miserable fashion, losing 2-1 to the Baltimore Orioles.  As noted repeatedly by the TBS announcers (who were terrible all series…yes, Dennis Eckersley, we are aware that you used to be a pitcher, you don’t have to keep reminding us), the crowd was eerily quiet.  On a gray, blustery Michigan afternoon, those in attendance were, as Mitch Albom put it, bearing silent witness to the potential end of an era.  After meltdowns by the bullpen in the first two games of the series, Detroit fans showed up to the party, but came empty-handed.  Sometimes, as fans, you bring the energy with you, but sometimes you need to be fed.  And these fans came hungry for any reason to hope, for any sign of life.  And they starved.

As the fans well know, the Tigers are not a team that comes back from the dead.  This is a team reliant on dominant starting pitching, building an early lead and holding on for dear life.  During the Tigers’ current run of four consecutive division championships, they have never come back to win a postseason game they were losing going into the eighth inning.  Not once.  Since 2011, they’ve been trailing after seven innings 14 times and lost all 14 games.  For that matter, the Tigers haven’t even won a single game where they were tied entering the eighth; they’re 0-4 in such games.  At the same time, the bullpen has registered five blown saves in the eighth inning or later.  Opposing bullpens have incurred a blown save against the Tigers in the 8th inning or later only once, in Game 2 of the 2012 ALDS, but even in that game, it was only after the Tigers’ bullpen had already blown a save.  The Tigers have only won a single game that went into extra innings in four opportunities, Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, but again, that was only after the Tigers bullpen had already blown a save in the 9th.

Overall, the Tigers have played 38 postseason games since 2011, with a record of 17-21.  In those games, they were leading after seven innings 20 times, trailing 14 times and tied 4 times.  If they simply won the games they were winning, lost the games they were losing, and won half of the games that were tied, that would be 22 wins and 16 losses.  The difference between 22-16 and 17-21 is the difference between genuine hope and utter despair.

This isn’t all about the bullpen or performance in the late innings.  This is about knowing that crazy things happen in baseball, and sometimes, when the chips are down, all you can do is hope for a miracle.  And while Detroit fans still clung to that hope, they understandably felt like those miracles only happen in other places for other fans for other teams.  When you hope for the best but expect the worst, you’re never wrong.  And the Tigers never fail to disappoint.

Ausmus Not Awesome

The Orioles now hold a 2-0 lead in the ALDS over the Tigers.  It’s not over, but it feels over.  For the third straight year, the Tigers have been handicapped by severe bullpen management and managerial incompetence.  In 2012 and 2013, it was Jim Leyland bungling things from the helm.  There was some hope that changing to a younger manager in Brad Ausmus would help to alleviate these issues, but that hope has already been smashed to smithereens.

In Game 2, Ausmus made three decisions regarding pitching changes, and they ranged between questionable and outright terrible:

– Left in Justin Verlander to start the 6th inning, then brought in Anibal Sanchez after Verlander gave up a hit.  Verlander looked absolutely done in the 5th, but Ausmus sent him back out to the mound in the 6th since he had only thrown 95 pitches.  Having Sanchez as the first guy out of the pen was clearly the correct decision, but given his lack of experience as a reliever, it would have been optimal to have him start an inning or come in with no one on base.  There was no reason to bring Verlander back out with the heart of the O’s order due up.  Luckily, Sanchez escaped the 6th without any further damage and pitched a perfect 7th, so no harm was done.  But as much as Verlander was battling all game, he was clearly toast, and I don’t understand the hesitance to switch to a pitcher in Sanchez who had been better than JV all year long.
Decision rating:  1 out of 5

– Removed Sanchez for Joba Chamberlain to begin the 8th.  This is the decision that will haunt the Tigers and their fans all winter.  Sanchez is a starting pitcher by trade, and he was looking stronger the longer he pitched.  Sure, he’d only had a single one inning appearance since he’d returned from the DL, but if Ausmus was thinking he couldn’t handle three innings, whose fault was it that Sanchez hadn’t been handed more work to get a bit more stretched out before the season ended?  This was slavish obedience to Ausmus’ set bullpen hierarchy, plain and simple.  Joba pitches the 8th and Joe Nathan pitches the 9th, never mind that both have been terrible lately and that there were superior options available.  Joba proceeded to give up two hits and hit a batter while getting a single lonely out.  His postseason ERA actually went down from infinity to 108.00.  Even if Ausmus was resolved to remove Sanchez after he had pitched two innings, I would have preferred to see Soria get a chance to start the inning.
Decision rating:  0 out of 5

– Removing Joba for Joakim Soria with two on, one out in the 8th.  This decision is probably the most defensible of the three, simply because Soria was having a great season before he was acquired by the Tigers.  He proceeded to walk J.J. Hardy and give up a game-winning bases-clearing double to former Tiger Delmon Young of all people.  Soria hasn’t looked sharp as a Tiger at all, but his usage since acquisition has been extremely inconsistent.  It appeared he finally shook off some of the rust to retire the side after the damage was already done, but a less rusty option might have been Al Alburquerque, who has yet to appear in the series.  As I’ve written before, Alburquerque has had the best and most consistent season of any Tiger reliever this year, and is a good option with runners on base due to his strikeout ability.  Given the lack of the options in the Tigers bullpen, Soria was an acceptable choice, but it appears that Ausmus doesn’t view Alburquerque as an option in the 8th or 9th inning regardless of matchup or situation.  It’s that kind of closed-minded thinking that is killing the Tigers right now.
Decision rating:  3 out of 5

Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that the Tigers bullpen has completely imploded and that’s even without the negative contributions of the highly flammable Joe Nathan (who of course is being reserved exclusively for save situations and hasn’t yet appeared in the postseason).  Sure, a postseason series is a small sample size, and there’s no need to deviate from a sound plan if things go wrong, but that’s only if the initial plan was any good.  Ausmus entered the postseason with a rigid and moronic plan for his already struggling bullpen.  Going forward, he’ll either overreact in the worst way possible (perhaps asking Phil Coke to get through a full inning or calling Jim Leyland for advice) or do nothing at all.  Either way, there is very little hope in Tigertown.

Bold Predictions Revisited

In March, I made a few predictions about how the season would go.  Let’s see how I did:

Prediction #1:  The St. Louis Cardinals will win 100 games.

WRONG.  The Cards still won the NL Central, but they only won 90 games.  My prediction was based on the Cardinals’ impressive organizational depth, but what good is depth if it doesn’t yield any impact players?  Hot prospect Oscar Taveras failed to impress in his debut and Allen Craig fell flat and ended up in Boston along with Joe Kelly and his high 90’s heat that somehow doesn’t yield any strikeouts.  The seemingly deep rotation suffered heavier than anticipated losses, with Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia losing many games to injury and Shelby Miller experiencing severe growing pains.  But despite all that, the Cards were deep enough to weather a great deal of adversity and make the postseason for the fourth straight year.  So I was sort of right.  Okay, fine, I wasn’t right at all.

Prediction #2:  The Oakland A’s will win the most games in the AL.

WRONG.  This prediction looked great at the end of July.  The A’s had the best record in the majors, had just traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester and were gearing up for a deep playoff run.  I looked like a genius.  But then, as has been well documented, the A’s crashed hard to earth and barely snuck in to the playoffs as a wild card while it was the division rival Angels that captured the best record.  The A’s finished with the fifth best record in the AL, so I wasn’t even close…but it feels close to me.

Prediction #3:  The Toronto Blue Jays will contend for a playoff spot.

WRONG.  Again, this prediction looked really good earlier in the season, before the Orioles (!) pulled away from everyone in the division.  The Jays were flying high until their wings were clipped by injuries to Brett Lawrie and Edwin Encarnacion.  (I say their wings were clipped because Blue Jays are birds and have wings.  I have such a way with words.)  Anyways, the Jays weren’t officially eliminated until the final week of the season, but they weren’t a real contender at any point during the home stretch.

Prediction #4:  The Detroit Tigers will win less than 90 games.

WRONG.  Unlike the other predictions, I was actually close on this one.  The Tigers won exactly 90 games, and needed every single one because the Royals finished second in the AL Central with 89.  My concerns about the bullpen were exactly on point (except the part where I thought Joe Nathan would be any good) as were my worries about the depth of the rotation (Anibal Sanchez missed significant time and his replacements, such as Robbie Ray and Kyle Lobstein, weren’t very good).  The offense actually turned out to be better than I thought despite a down year from Miguel Cabrera, thanks to a career best season from Victor Martinez (32 homers) and a breakout performance from J.D. Martinez.  Anyways, I was close, but still 100% wrong…but I’m glad I was wrong.  Though it would be nice if I were even wronger, and the Tigers had won 100 games.

Prediction results:  0 for 4

Revised Postseason Predictions:

I predicted only two of five AL playoff teams correctly (Detroit and Oakland), but got four out of five NL playoff teams right (Washington, Los Angeles, St. Louis and San Francisco) plus all three division winners.  Though the teams I predicted to be in the League Championship Series are all still alive (Detroit, Oakland, St. Louis, Washington), I’m going to change my predictions because the Cardinals haven’t been as good as I thought they would be and because Clayton Kershaw is an animal.

AL Wild Card:  Oakland over Kansas City
NL Wild Card:  Pittsburgh over San Francisco

ALCS:  Detroit over Oakland
NLCS:  Los Angeles over Washington

World Series:  Detroit over Los Angeles

Detroit’s Ideal Postseason Bullpen Usage

Let’s face it: the Detroit Tigers bullpen has been a complete dumpster fire in 2014.  But as the Tigers prepare for the playoffs, the bullpen situation may not be as bleak as it seems:

– Thanks to a good starting rotation that pitches deep into games, Tigers relievers have thrown the least innings in the league.  The Tigers will likely lean even more heavily on their starting pitchers in the postseason, further minimizing the number of outs that will be required out of the bullpen.

– Anibal Sanchez’s injury may have been a blessing in disguise, assuming that he’s now fully healthy.  Without enough time to get stretched out to return to the rotation, Sanchez’s extended layoff takes a difficult question out of the Tigers’ hands.  Had Sanchez been healthy all year, the question at this time would be whether it would be Justin Verlander or Rick Porcello who would be demoted to the bullpen in the playoffs.  While moving Sanchez to the bullpen might cause a bit of an overall downgrade to the starting rotation, Sanchez has the tools to be a strikeout weapon out of the pen, unlike Porcello and this current incarnation of Verlander.

The Tigers have gone with a seven-man bullpen in the playoffs the past few years, and it seems unlikely that they’ll deviate from this number this year.  Here’s what that bullpen should look like (but probably won’t, thanks to Brad Ausmus’ misplaced loyalties), in order of ideal usage:

1.  Anibal Sanchez
Key stats:  125 IP, 3.46 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 102 K
Strengths:  2013 AL ERA champ, could see his velocity tick up a bit as a reliever, offsetting his drop in K-rate in 2014.
Weaknesses:  Has not pitched a game in relief since 2006, his rookie year.
Description:  Last year, Porcello was the starter that moved to the pen for the playoffs, and he was both criminally underused by then-manager Jim Leyland (only three batters in the entire postseason) and ineffective in his transition (gave up hits to all three batters).  Let’s hope that Sanchez can adjust quicker to relieving and that Brad Ausmus can figure out how to use him.
Usage:  Ideally, Sanchez should throw around 25% of all bullpen innings (for example, in a five game series, I envision perhaps two 2-inning outings).  Avoid (1) pitching him on consecutive days and (2) bringing him in mid-inning with runners on base.  Subject to those two restrictions, Sanchez should be the first guy out of the pen and allowed to pitch multiple innings.

2.  Joakim Soria
Key stats:  43.1 IP, 3.32 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 48 K
Strengths:  Fast recovery.  Soria’s numbers over the past few years are actually better when he’s pitching with zero days rest.
Weaknesses:  Inconsistent workload.  Soria has an ERA of 5.40 and a WHIP of 1.50 with the Tigers so far in only 12 appearances.
Description:  Granted, part of the lack of usage was due to a DL stint, but Ausmus hasn’t been able to figure out a way to get Soria into high-leverage situations with regularity, much less in back-to-back games, with the starters often working through the seventh inning and the eight and ninth rigidly committed to Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan, respectively.  I am really hoping Ausmus can become more flexible in the playoffs; if Soria isn’t getting a high percentage of high-leverage innings, it’s a huge waste of the expensive price the Tigers paid to get him.
Usage:  25% of bullpen innings.  Do not hesitate to use on consecutive days.  Note that Sanchez and Soria together should ideally account for 50% of all bullpen innings.

3.  Al Alburquerque
Key stats:  55.1 IP, 2.60 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 61 K
Strengths:  Strikeouts.  Sadly, Alburquerque projects to be the only member of the Tigers bullpen that has struck out more than a batter per inning in 2014 for the Tigers.  This is not good, given today’s strikeout-rich environment.
Weaknesses:  Walks.  Alburquerque looked to have a potential future as a closer a few years ago if he could only get his walks under control.  In 2014, the walks number (21) is finally manageable, though it appears he had to sacrifice a few strikeouts to do it.
Description:  He’s still erratic, but he’s probably been the most consistent member of the bullpen all season, which says more about the state of the other relievers than it does about AlAl.  In the 2012 postseason, the Tigers were scrambling for help when Jose Valverde imploded, and Jim Leyland for some reason turned to guys like Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel instead of Alburquerque and his impressive strikeout rate.  I have a feeling Alburquerque could get overlooked again this year and remain behind Nathan and Chamberlain in the postseason pecking order, but he shouldn’t.  If you need a big strikeout, this should be Ausmus’ guy.
Usage:  15% of bullpen innings.  Use in high-leverage situations where a strikeout is needed (e.g. runner on third and less than two out).

4.  Phil Coke
Key stats:  56.2 IP, 3.81 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 41 K
Strengths:  Getting out lefties.  Lefties hit .238/.294/.366 against Coke this year.
Weaknesses:  Getting out righties.  Righties hit .325/.388/.463 against Coke this year.
Description:  This left/right split has persisted for years now, but believe it or not, this is actually one of Coke’s better years against righties, and they’re still hitting like freaking superstars against him.  Leyland simply didn’t get this in 2012 or 2013, and for the love of God, I hope Ausmus can figure this out in 2014.  Coke should not face any right handed hitters in any important situation EVER, and that includes switch-hitters who hit worse from the right side.
Usage:  11% of bullpen innings.  Ideally, Coke should be used for a single at-bat (against the opposing team’s best left-handed hitter) each game.

5.  Joba Chamberlain
Key stats:  61.1 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 58 K
Strengths:  Beard growing; not giving up homers (only 0.44 allowed per nine innings).
Weaknesses:  Fatigue.  After a good first half (2.63 ERA), Chamberlain has been Nathan-esque in the second half, posting a 5.32 ERA and seeing an increase in walks and a decrease in strikeouts.  His velocity is trending downwards as well.  He seems to be tiring; or perhaps there’s an injury in play?
Description:  Joba has earned a lot of trust with Ausmus as the 8th inning guy, but I’m not sure it’s warranted at this point; I hope to see Sanchez, Soria and even Al Alburquerque picking up more of the workload in the 8th.  Joba hasn’t had to deal with many inherited runners, usually always starting the 8th inning, and I’m not sure now is the time to start bringing him in mid-inning.
Usage:  10% of bullpen innings.  Use in lower leverage situations or for home run suppression.

6.  Joe Nathan
Key stats:  56 IP, 4.98 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 52 K
Strengths:  Making obscene gestures to the home fans.
Weaknesses:  Old age; booing; men with bats in hands.
Description:  It appears that Ausmus and the Tigers intend to stick with him as the closer even after the horrendous year he’s had.  Sure, there’s always some luck involved in relievers’ numbers, given the small sample size, but the most alarming thing about Nathan’s 2014 performance is the 29 walks and embarrassingly bad 1.79 K/BB ratio.  I expect that Nathan will get his share of ninth inning opportunities (hopefully protecting multi-run leads), but under no situation should Nathan come into a game with men on base.
Usage:  10% of bullpen innings.  Use with extreme caution and only with the bases empty.  OK to use in the ninth inning, but for the love of god, please have someone else warming up.

7.  Blaine Hardy or Kyle Lobstein
Key stats:  37.1 IP, 2.17 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 30 K / 34.2 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 23 K
Description:  The proper usage of Coke as a LOOGY necessitates the inclusion of another left-handed pitcher to complete the staff.  Hardy has had a good year since he’s been called up, but has struggled this month with walks (five in 3.1 innings) while Lobstein has come on strong lately.  The difficult question for Ausmus and his staff in making this decision will be whether they prefer to have a guy comfortable working as a second LOOGY behind Coke (Hardy) or a more versatile swingman who can potentially pitch deep into an extra inning game (Lobstein).  I don’t think either rookie will get too many of the high leverage situations, unless Ausmus turns into the 2013 version of Leyland who overmanaged lefty-righty matchups, so I’d give Lobstein the slight edge here.
Usage:  4% of bullpen innings.

Slash Lines

.220/.281/.296.  This is the collective slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) for Detroit Tigers shortstops this year.  Despite ranking among the top two or three offenses in the league, the Tigers’ contributions from its shortstops ranks dead last in the majors in terms of OPS.

.219/.268/.271.  Tigers shortstop Andrew Romine’s contribution to that awful slash line in 77 games and 227 plate appearances.  He has 9 RBI for the entire season.  NINE.  Nelson Cruz collected 7 RBI on Sunday in a single game.

.191/.265/.202.  Romine’s slash line with runners on base.  Awful.  But wait for it…

.182/.182/.227.  The slash line for Tigers pitchers in 2014.  In case you forgot, the Tigers are an American League team.  

.143/.208/.143.  Romine’s slash line with runners in scoring position.  Yes, to clarify, that is a slugging percentage of ONE-FOUR-THREE.  So combine general terribleness with incredible anti-clutchness and you get Andrew Romine.  THIS…is how you end up with 9 RBI for an entire season.

The Bruce Is Loose

One day after giving up six runs in the 10th inning, pitcher Bruce Chen was cut by the Royals today.  Best case, this is a knee-jerk reaction to a painful (and, lately, rare) Royals loss; worst case, this a pretty dick move.  I have no particular loyalty to the Chinese-Panamanian Chen, but I am loyal to loyalty itself, and this was his sixth season with the Royals.  While not a star by any means, Chen did manage to post replacement level or better numbers for a team mired in perpetual mediocrity.  Until this year, that is; the Royals are in first place and are the hottest team in baseball.  The apparent dickishness of this move is due to the fact that major league rosters expand on September 1.  Two more days and they can call up whoever they want without having to cut anyone.  The Royals couldn’t keep the guy around for two more days?  It’s not about money, since they have to pay him anyways, and it’s apparently not about chemistry, since manager Ned Yost extolled Chen’s virtues as a clubhouse leader today.  So what is it?  Do the Royals really need that one extra arm in the bullpen that badly over the weekend?

This reminds me of 2006, when the perennially awful Detroit Tigers were finally in first place in September, and then decided to cut five-year veteran Dmitri Young for no obvious reason on September 6.  Granted, Young had been through a great deal of off-field issues during the year, including domestic violence allegations, a divorce and alcohol-related issues.  But no official reason has ever been given for this roster decision other than “performance”, and at the time it was surprising to everyone, including his teammates, because rosters had expanded and it would have cost the Tigers nothing to keep him around for the rest of the year.  Perhaps back then the off-field issues added up to just too much, but we’ll never know.  But it seemed like very strange timing to part ways with a guy who had been an integral part of your franchise for years.

The aftermath in 2006 was that the Tigers swooned to a 10-12 finish after cutting Young, allowing the Twins to overtake them for the Central Division crown on the season’s final day (but the Tigers did still manage to grab the wild-card and make a run to the World Series).   Perhaps the clubhouse was rattled by losing one of their veterans, perhaps it was karma for being dicks.  Will the same thing happen to the apparently dickish Royals in 2014 as they attempt to win the Central for the first time ever?  We’re about to find out.

No One Cares About Your Fantasy Team, Especially Not The Universe

Sometimes the stars align…

Situation:

– You have five starting pitchers on your fantasy baseball roster scheduled to start on the same day (Johnny Cueto, Alex Cobb, Alex Wood, Gerrit Cole, R.A. Dickey).

– Even though you only have four slots for starting pitchers in your fantasy format, one of those pitchers (Wood) is eligible to be started as a reliever.

– None of those pitchers are starting against each other.

– Vegas odds favor your pitcher’s team in all five of these starts.

– All five matchups (and the Tigers game) start at the same time (7 eastern).

– None of these games are blacked out on MLB.TV in your area.

Logical Next Step:

This is clearly the universe telling you that you should activate all five starters, eat Taco Bell for lunch for good luck and skip out of work early so that this awesomeness can happen:

six games

Final result:

Five starts, ZERO wins.  Yes, sometimes the stars align…to trick you into believing that the universe likes you…but it doesn’t…it hates you.